There’s been some discussion recently about Facebook making it possible for people under the age of thirteen to open accounts and create personal profiles at the popular social networking site. Predictably, many people have Strong Feelings about this possibility. They’re concerned about cyberbullying and social isolation, about predatory marketing towards children who don’t yet have strong media literacy skills. They’re concerned about kids spending too much time on the Internets instead of outside where, it’s assumed, they’ll have higher-quality interactions and participate in more healthful activities.
(Why is it always “outside”? When my mother was a child she used to be harassed by her parents for spending too much time with her nose in a book instead of our skiing or swimming or playing on the playground. These arguments for what’s acceptable or appropriate childhood pastimes predate the internet by decades, if not centuries!)
I have some Strong Feelings myself about this debate, although those feelings are very muddled. On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the desire expressed by adults to establish childhood has a time and place for children to develop as human beings, with (in an ideal world!) stronger support and protections than most adults have. My parents were very mindful about the amount of time we kids / the family watched television and/or played computer games (“online” time was not an issue, since we didn’t have Internet access at home until I was in college). As our parents, they exerted adult authority to participate in decision-making regarding age-appropriate media consumption. So I get where the anti-Facebookers are coming from, at least in part.
But there are ways in which the debate is making me edgy. To whit: